An enchanting spread of deciduous trees and wild shrubbery, the Gir Forest is the last remaining home of the Asiatic Lion and outside of Africa, it is the only place where you can see these magnificent beasts roaming the wild. If you have never seen a lion outside a zoo enclosure, looking one in the eye from a few feet away can be quite an exhilarating experience. However, the Lion Safari at Gir is much more than a detached “sighting” experience. If you are lucky, you may even get to see one in full action – lounging in the shade with the rest of the pride or crouching and stalking its prey before going for the final kill.
The Lions and Us
For centuries, the relationship between Gir Lions and human beings has been a rather mixed and complex one. Once hunted down to near extinction, the Asiatic Lion is now thriving with the help of conservation efforts from the Forest Department and support from the local tribesmen – the Maldharis. The Maldharis know the forest like the back of their hand, and they often guide forest officials towards little-known hideouts to keep a tab on the lions’ health and wellbeing. This unusual tracking mechanism ensures that enthusiastic visitors get an eyeful of these beautiful animals – Route 2 and Route 6 boast of the highest lion traffic, I was told.
It is heartening to see the manner in which the cattle-herding community of the Maldharis co-exists shoulder-to-shoulder with the lions, who are primary dependent on their cattle for food. The spirited tribesmen, however, consider it the “price” they have to pay for sharing the lions’ territory. If all human beings felt that way, the world would indeed be a better place for animals, especially wild ones.
The Gir Experience
Apart from the Asiatic Lions, Gir is also home to leopards, the jungle cat, sloth bears, striped hyenas, golden jackals, langurs, chinkara, sambar, nilgai, antelopes and the wild boar. It is not uncommon to spot smaller mammals like the porcupine and wild hare scamper by while you are busy waiting for the ‘big sighting’.
A bird-watcher’s paradise, Gir is a favorite hangout for over 300 different species of birds, including the king vulture, the crested serpent eagle, black rumped flameback woodpeckers, asian paradise flycatcher, warblers and white-throated kingfisher. Do carry a pair of binoculars along to make the most of your birding experience.
Considering the vastness and depth of the Gir Forest, short weekend trips are hardly satiating. A 5-10 day trip, on the other hand, allows you to explore the depths of the forest and get acquainted with the unique flora and fauna. Those on a tight schedule can take a 30-minute long bus trip into the Interpretation Zone at Devalia to “sample” the magnificence of Gir, but it does not even compare to the real deal of plunging into the heart of the forest and getting up, close and personal with the lion in its natural habitat.
Beyond the Wilderness
The abundant wildlife is not the only thing that draws thousands of visitors to Gir every year – the region abounds in historical sites, architectural marvels and temples, which make for a versatile holiday experience. If a trip to Gir is on your vacation calendar this year, you might want to consider including Gondal, Junagarh, Somnath and Bhuj in your itinerary.
Fast Facts About Gir:
Area: 260 square kilometers
Location: Sasan Gir, Gujarat
Best time to visit: November to May
Nearest Airport: Ahemedabad (350 kms)
Nearest Railway Station: Junagarh (60 km)
Where to Stay: